What is a Doula?
"She will be wholly yours for as long as you need her and she will step back and close the door when you are ready for her to leave." - Mars Lord
A birth doula is a companion trained to provide birthing people with one-on-one care and continuous support during pregnancy, labour, birth and the postpartum period. Doulas can benefit couples in different ways, such as physical support, emotional support, information and advocacy. The continuous support also consists of praise, encouragement, comfort measures, reassurance and explanations about progress during labour.
Doulas provide support with a positive attitude in an active way that is tailored to the needs and wishes of each woman and this support will affect the birth outcomes.
Doulas are trained to provide physical support through the use of soothing touch and massage. Doulas make sure that the birthing person is as comfortable as possible. They might use techniques such as using movement and positioning as they are very effective in pain management. They can also use pressure on your back during contractions called counter pressure and can also use something called the hip squeeze. They also help to keep you nourished with ice chips, food and drinks, assisting with shower or tub and other comfort measures like providing you with a fan if you get hot, giving you a cold wet washcloth if you are nauseous or giving you a warm compress, providing you with pillows, music and anything you need to help you keep comfortable.
They work to create a calm birth environment because a lot of birth environments in hospitals can cause stress which can actually increase your perception of pain. So doulas work to decrease that stress in the birth room.
Doulas also provide emotional support, which helps to manage pain during childbirth. They give you encouragement and remind you that you feel safe and supported. All doulas work with the birth partners you have chosen to be there with you to better support you.
Studies have found that when people feel capable, confident and cared for, they actually feel less pain during labour, they perceive the pain as more manageable and they are better able to cope. Doulas also help mothers to interpret labour in a more positive way, reminding them that the sensations that they are feeling are productive, purposeful and powerful and that each wave or contraction is helping to bring the baby down and out. When mothers feel their contractions in this way, they are more likely to perceive contractions as less painful.
The emotional support that is given by the doulas also helps women to feel cared for and feel a sense of pride and empowerment after birth.
Giving information is another way a doula can be beneficial. Doulas help to prepare people who are pregnant and their partners through education, information and practice of certain techniques that are given during the antenatal visits. Doulas help them talk about their fears and they suggest techniques they can use such as breathing, relaxation, movement and changing positions.
Doulas provide the couples with evidence-based information about birth options and help them to keep informed about what is going on with the course of labour. The presence of a doula can be really helpful also in achieving progress during labour.
By advocacy, it doesn't mean that a doula can speak up for the mother, but they can assist in facilitating better communication between care providers and the birthing woman, encouraging the parents to ask questions and verbalize their preferences, creating space and time for the birthing family so that they can ask questions, gather evidence-based information, and make decisions without feeling pressured and asking the mother what they want.
The doula is there to support the mother physically and emotionally, but also to make her feel safe because she is around. The mother knows the doula is happy to be there supporting her, she trusts the doula. The doula understands their needs, is working with you on those needs. The doula works for the mother and not for the care provider. Everybody else in that birth team is going to be working with or for the provider, but not a doula. She will be there to support you and to make sure your needs are met whatever options you need and the knowledge you have to be able to move forward and make decisions. So doulas offer knowledge and options because both the birthing mother and the partner need to have the knowledge and information.
The doula respects your wishes and doesn't have an agenda. Doulas don't have their own wishes and ideas on how your birth should go. Doulas leave themselves and their personal opinions at the door, once they walk through the door it is not about what they think or believe. They walk in and they are really there for that couple.
Women need their partners, their perspective and their strength. They need them to be knowledgeable and on board with what they are trying to do or what they want for their birth experience, so they need to work together.
It is common for partners not to understand what a doula is and of course, there is an investment. So it is a fair question to ask if it is going to be worth it. What am I getting out of this?
Most of the time, the partner doesn't know anything about a doula until the woman approaches them about that subject and brings them the idea of a doula. Sometimes, after she explains to them what a doula is and what she does, they think the doula will replace them, to do the partner's job. But doulas don't take over the role of the partner.
The presence of a doula is not only compatible with the recognition and validation of the father's right and need to be present at birth but also enhances it.
Doulas offer support to the partners on many levels, such as educating and helping to prepare the partners, making them feel encouraged and confident, which helps the beautiful flow of positive energy in the birth space.
Doulas support not just the mother but also the partner supporting the mother. With a doula present, it allows the partner to focus more on caring for the mother. Doulas and partners want to protect the birth space during this sacred and beautiful moment but at the same time, there is a lot to do in the background. So doulas free them to be able to be fully present for the mother.
Sometimes, when the partners are trying to do and to remember the techniques they learned during antenatal visits or childbirth classes, it can be exhausting for them and this can be sensed by the woman in labour and she can be concerned about her partner instead of focussing on herself, the baby and her body.
My name is Raquel Reis and I am a qualified doula who has done extensive training at the Doula Training Academy with Vicki Hobbs.
If you would like more information about my services please contact me: